Green design: Here to stay

‘Good design is green design,’ says award-winning Southwest designer

LYNNHURST — The notion that environmental responsibility gets in the way of good design is fading fast, and Casa Verde Design is doing its part to dispel it.

Rosemary Merrill, an award-winning custom kitchen and bath designer and president of the Lynnhurst-based showroom, said these days the opposite is true.

“Good design is green design,” Merrill affirmed.

Sustainability was a founding principal of Casa Verde, 911 W. 50th St., opened by Merrill in 2008 with friends Susan Brunn and Susan Jacobs. That principal is expressed even in their office workspace, where books rest on shelves made of a wheat-based composite, floor plans unroll on countertops of compressed recycled paper and shoes tread on plant-fiber carpeting.

At Casa Verde, though, green design does not come down to the choice of materials alone. Merrill said one tenet of green design has held true since long before “green” became a buzzword: design to last.

“You’re not going to put something in that’s trendy that’s not going to last, that people want to tear out 10 years from now,” she said. “You want to have it look like it’s there to stay, and it’s quality.”

Merrill’s ability to execute stylish yet timeless design with sustainable products was recognized in March when she was named national winner for the “Best Sustainable Green Kitchen” in the 2008–2009 Sub-Zero/Wolf Kitchen Design Contest.

Staying power

The winning kitchen design incorporated energy-efficient appliances from the contest sponsors, encasing them in cabinetry built locally from Forest Stewardship Council-certified lumber, which identifies wood harvested from responsibly managed forests. The countertops were soapstone, eliminating the need for toxic sealers.

A backsplash reclaimed from a previous job and recycled bronze hardware on the cabinets highlighted the new emphasis on reuse in home remodeling.

“In remodeling, you see so much stuff that just gets thrown away,” Merrill said. “It just sort of made you cringe a little bit, that you would tear out kitchens and just toss them — the waste.”

A traditional but luxurious kitchen concept that would cost $85,000–$100,000 for installation, the room does not flaunt its eco-conscious underpinnings.

“The idea we had was: How do you take sustainable design and make it look more classic and timeless, and have more design to it?” she said.

Casa Verde is Spanish for “Green Home,” but for some clients that’s beside the point, Jacobs said.

“We have a lot of clients, too, who come in and aren’t necessarily interested in sustainability,” she said. “They love the design, they love the beautiful cabinetry [and] they love how well-made everything is.”

Green going mainstream

Going green can add extra expense to a home remodeling project, although that is less and less the case these days, Merrill insisted.

“I’m working on a good-sized project right now that is Minnesota GreenStar” — she said, referring to a certification program for sustainable home building projects —  “and I don’t think the cost to do that remodel is any more expensive than it would have been, except for the cost of registering the project [with GreenStar].”

Brunn said Casa Verde clients choose from a menu of eco-conscious options, depending on their budget, needs and desire to minimize the remodeling projects’ environmental impact.

“What we really pride ourselves on is being able to show clients what their options are, certainly, in terms of sustainability,” she said.

While homeowners today may choose those options a la carte, they are quickly becoming standard fare through of a mix of new construction and appliance standards, as well as the public’s growing concern for environmental sustainability.

“Ten years from now that will just be the way people are building,” Merrill predicted. “I think people are proud of it, too, when they design that way, when their home is built that way.”